For our last night in Madrid - and Spain - we really wanted to go all out and go nuts, and where better than in the land where molecular gastronomy has entered the household vernacular? We searched online for some quality nouveau Spanish cuisine, and Dassa Bassa seemed to be a popular choice.
Dassa Bassa is the home of Dario Barrio, whom NY Times calls one of Madrid's "five disciples of the haute cuisine guru Ferran Adria," which only emphasizes what an enormous impact Adria has had on an entire culture. It's hard to over-exaggerate just how famous Adria is in his native land, and even harder to think of any one chef that has so much impact on any one culture save for, perhaps, Escoffier. In any case, Barrio is a young, rising star in Madrid, and host of Todos Contra El Chef, a Spanish version of UK's Britain versus Chef, where spectators challenge Barrio to a duel. It doesn't hurt matters much that Barrio's one handsome dude:
We found Dassa Bassa on the outskirts of the Salamanca district, which is where the posh and glamorous reside in Madrid. If you've ever wondered where the beautiful people roam in Spain, this is it. We visited the restaurant the day before to ensure we could get reservations (note to the wise: just ask for a reservation at 9:30. It's late for us N.American folks, but too early for the locals to entertain). It's not the easiest place to find, and it looks like a tiny lounge from the street level. However, the actual restaurant is below the street level, in a maze of old cellar rooms that have been completely modernized and redone. The manager, proud of just how gorgeous the space is, wanted to give us a tour of the restaurant that afternoon, and who were we not to oblige?
It's always somewhat unnerving when you arrive at a place close to 10pm and the only other table in sight are seniors, but that's Madrid for you. We sat to an serving of olives and yucca chips, which turned out to be the first course of the tasting menu without us having even ordered it (we did). The place slowly filled up, mostly with other tourists in the know, with locals following close behind.
Once we had ordered, the next item really set the stage: the gin fizz. I've never had a tasting menu where a cocktail is one of the courses, but I can't say I'm opposed. The shot glass was filled with seltzer water, with the gin encapsulated in this bubble sphere floating at the top. Meant to be downed in one gulp, the orb of gin bursts in the mouth with the rush of seltzer water to mix.
A little espresso cup of a chilled ginger and leak soup followed. Soup in shot glasses isn't exactly a new thing, but this one was more like a foamy drink than a pedestrian chilled soup, and refreshing after a day in the summer sun.
After four starters, the actual courses commenced with a gazpacho. Instead of the usual tomato soup that college kids serve at their first few grown-up dinner parties, this gazpacho had a healthy base of strawberry thrown into the mix, which made it much more of an interesting flavour combination than expected.
I've only ever known bonito as those little dried flakes that adorn so many Japanese dishes, but here we were served an actual piece of bonito, which is similar to a tuna. Bonito is a dry, firm fish, and it would be pretty easy to overcook. This bonito, though, was well-prepared, and served with a citrus sorbet of sorts, and a bed of peppers. This gave a great dose of sweetness to the dish that would have otherwise been on the meat-y, protein-y side.
To keep the dry fish theme going, the next course was hake, which, of course, was also perfectly prepared. I remember this as being served in a bonito broth, which had the right amount of saltiness that the traditional dried and salted hake has.
I cannot and will not cease in extolling the virtues of suckling pig. Every culture has some version of the suckling pig, and for good reason: there's very few dishes that are more perfect. Dassa Bassa's version had layers of suckling pork sitting atop a cornmeal type base, which in itself was in a slightly sweet sauce. On top, the most crucial element: the crackling (oh, GOD, the crackling!), with another citrus-y glob that was reminiscent of that atop the bonito, but at room temperature. Simply perfect.
I don't remember much about dessert number one - it has been almost two months - but I do remember a good dose of gin, tying it to the gin fizz served at the beginning, a layer of sweet ice, and feeling like I needed to take a picture of all the layers involved. There you go. A good palate cleanser to transition.
I do remember slightly more about dessert number two, a chocolate fudge. It doesn't look like much from the picture, but underneath the surface of chocolate fudge pudding was an array of nuts, chocolate, cake-y goodness underneath.
Things ended off with a selection of petite fours, which I feel should really end all dinners around the world, everywhere. These included a selection of truffles, passionfruit marshmallows, and cookies.
After dinner, we headed upstairs and chatted with the manager, who had remembered us from the day before. It's great meeting someone that is so obviously proud of his establishment, and he took his time in asking us for our opinion of the meal. We signed the guestbook, and found ourselves checking onto our flight home a few hours later, knowing full well that it'll be a long, long time before we find another place that matches all of the culinary treats we found in Spain.